In a Span of Three Years, Coral Gables Will Invest More Than $100 Million Upgrading its Public Structures to State-of-the-Art Facilities Ready for Tomorrow
The quality of public buildings in any city is a measure of its success and prosperity, as well as an inspiration to its residents. In Coral Gables, the roster of city-owned historic architecture, from the Biltmore to the Venetian Pool, is one of its claims to fame. But these are the monuments of yesterday. What the city is more focused on now are service buildings for the future, buildings that will serve the needs of transportation, administration, police, fire and emergency medical personnel.
“We want state of the art buildings,” says City Manager Peter Iglesias. “We want buildings that will be functional for the next 50 years.” And Iglesias, now entering his second year as city manager, is perfect for the job of honchoing the city’s new construction projects. While he is responsible for running all city departments, Iglesias comes from a building and engineering background, one of the reasons the city commission chose him for the job of city manager last year. And there is no doubt that he relishes the task of refurbishing key city buildings.
“I’m handling vertical,” Iglesias says of the building projects. “That’s one of my part time jobs. I have public works handling the horizontal parts, which is roadways, drainage and all of that, but I have been handling vertical, along with Ernesto Pino.” Pino, an ex-assistant director of public works, is now the department’s senior project manager for vertical projects. Together, Iglesias and Pino are overseeing more than $100 million in new and refurbished city buildings over the next three years, moving along at a clipped pace to meet what Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli calls “extremely high priorities.”
What Must Go Up
“We are doing things that are very much needed,” says Valdés-Fauli, including constructing a new public safety building, a new trolley building, two new fire stations and two new parking garages, along with restoring city hall and its annex building. While the scope seems ambitious, says the mayor, it is really just a continuation of the city upgrades that began with the StreetScape project that was finished in 2018. “We are always doing things to benefit our citizens.”
But whereas the StreetScape project to upgrade Miracle Mile and turn a block of Giralda Avenue into a pedestrian mall cost $25 million, the current plans will cost more than four times that amount. “We are solvent, thank heaven, so we have the money to do it,” says Valdés-Fauli. And, unlike the extended StreetScape project, the current buildings are going up on time. “The public safety building has been on schedule since day one,” says Pino. “It started when it needed to start, and the schedule has been kept.”
“Yes, we have an aggressive building schedule. But we haven’t done a lot for quite a number of years, and our infrastructure is so very important,” says Iglesias. “Plus, we are prioritizing all the maintenance issues, so that we never let maintenance come down [again]. When you do that it gets expensive.” Here, then, are the key projects slated for completion this year, next year and in 2022.
|Public Safety Building||2020||$55 million|
|Fire Station Two||2020||$11 million|
|Trolley Building||2020||Included in fire station|
|Parking Garage 7||2021||$18 million|
|Annex Building||2021||$3 million|
|Fire Station 4||2021||TBA|
|Parking Garage 1||2022||TBA|
Source: City of Coral Gables Public Works Department
Public Safety Building and Parking Garage 7
The existing public safety building, a brutalist style structure on Salzedo west of Ponce Circle, currently houses the police department, fire department and emergency medical services. But its functionality has been compromised for years. “The building has been settling, so you can’t even park fire trucks there,” says Valdés-Fauli. “The building leaks and floods. It’s ridiculous.”
The new public safety building, at the intersection of Salzedo and Minorca, above, is slated to be finished this August, after which it will take two months to move in police, fire and EMS. “It is not a simple building,” says Pino, because it houses the city’s futuristic IT department, as well as the city’s first responders. As a consequence of its precious cargo, including the city’s command center for emergency operations, “It’s a hardened building,” says Pino. “It’s a bunker, with reinforced, grouted masonry, and glass that is thicker and stronger than [standard] impact glass… we can’t afford for it to go down in a hurricane.”
Adjacent to the public safety building (PSB) is where Parking Garage 7 will go up next year. While its primary function will be to increase parking for the north Gables with 450 spaces, it’s been specially designed to house emergency equipment as well. “When you go into a parking garage the ceilings are very low, to minimize the height of the garage,” says Iglesias. “But that height does not work for large vehicles, vans and things like that.”The new garage can accommodate emergency vehicles, and, in the case of emergencies, a firewall between the garage and the second floor of the PSB will come down and the buildings will be interconnected.
Fire Station 2 and the Trolley Building
By later this year, Fire Station Two on U.S. 1 at Riviera Drive will be entirely rebuilt, keeping only the external shell of the original building, while adding a two-story structure for more fire trucks, training classrooms, and a gym. All together it will have six bays for trucks, up from the current two.
Next door will be a new Trolley Building to house the city’s fleet of trolleys, which are currently kept near the airport. The building will also be used for trolley maintenance and minor repairs. “The nice thing about keeping the trolleys here is that, instead of parking them way off from the city, we can park them here and get a little additional service time,” says Iglesias. “Maybe we can get another half an hour of road time. I’ll take it.” The Trolley Building will also have a backup 911 communication tower. “We should be redundant, just in case,” says the city manager.
The Annex Building and City Hall. “It’s a 1926 building that needs a heck of a lot of tender loving care,” says Mayor Valdés-Fauli. “You can see leaks. You need preservation, and the expenditure of money to keep such a historic structure alive.” While no price tag has been established, the multi-million-dollar fix will replace plumbing and electrical wiring, restore the floors, waterproof the walls and replace the roof.
Before that can happen, however, the adjacent city annex building at 427 Biltmore Way, which Iglesias says is in “terrible condition,” will be rehabbed from top to bottom, and become “the one-stop shop” for all city development services. Once that’s done, the city’s planning and permitting departments, currently on the third floor of City Hall, will be relocated there and the process of repairing City Hall can begin.
Fire Station 4
While no designs have been finalized, the new Fire Station 4 on Sunset east of Red Road will fill a critical gap in EMS coverage for Coral Gables, filling in the gap between Fire Station 2 on U.S. 1 and Fire Station 3 at the end of Old Cutler at 57th Avenue. It will be designed to look like a single-family home to better blend in with the neighborhood, and will include a park behind the station on San Ignacio Avenue. The city is currently purchasing the $2 million property for the station.
Parking Garage 1
Of all the projects the city is working on, none excite City Manager Iglesias more than the complete reinvention of Parking Garage One, which is located on the north side of Andalusia Avenue between Salzedo and Ponce, just east of the Miracle Theatre. Currently a heavily used but somewhat shabby structure in the middle of the business district, the garage will become what Iglesias describes as a state-of-the- art “mobility hub” that can adapt to the city’s transportation needs of the future. It will hold 750 cars (up from 450) and have spaces for ride sharing, bays for electric car recharging, and accommodations for self-driving vehicles.
“It will use smart parking technology that will exceed [the technology] of what Walt Disney World uses right now,” says Iglesais. “This goes along with Coral Gables as a smart city.” The building will also house street level retail (right now cars face the street) and the roof will be “activated” as
an elevated public park. The project will be put out for design bids, with the city “looking for a high-end, state of the art structure, that can adapt to new parking technologies,” says Iglesias. “Who knows? It might make other parking facilities we own obsolete, especially with autonomous vehicles [on the horizon]. The other garages may become things we do not need.”